Wasted potential, faulty reactor sink 'K-19'

K-19: The Widowmaker -- PG-13
Starring: Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Showing: Showplace East 11 First take Han Solo and Qui Gon Jinn, give them funny Russian accents and appoint them as captains in the Red navy. Next, stick the "Star Wars" alums in a claustrophobia inducing, Soviet nuclear submarine and send it on a mission before it's ready. Finally, give the whole thing the worst and most unappealing title you can come up with, and there it is, "K-19: The Widowmaker." Okay, seriously, while the title is lame enough to scare away most potential filmgoers, "K-19: The Widowmaker" did have some promise. Inspired by a true story, the film chronicles the 1961 maiden voyage of what was, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Navy's finest nuclear submarine. The ship, captained by the well-connected and hard-nosed Alexi Vostrikov (Ford), is under orders from Moscow to head out to sea and fire a test missile as a show of might for watchful American spy planes. The problem is none of the crewmembers like Capt. Vostrikov, a replacement for their beloved ex-captain Polenin (Neeson), who is now second in command. Moreover, the poor crew is stuck in the depths of the ocean with a faulty nuclear reactor, which, as you might have guessed, begins to melt down, potentially detonating a super-massive nuke that would inadvertently ignite devastating American retaliation. When you think about it (and ignore the heinous title), that doesn't sound too bad. However, all too often, director Kathryn Bigelow's heavy-handed lapses of narrative and directorial sense and weak character development of the supporting cast render attempts at suspense and drama flat and unfulfilling. Just when the film actually starts to get intense -- mostly during the reactor repair sequences and a few plot twists toward the end -- it manages to trip all over its predictable and transparently embellished plot. When it comes to historical epics where the end product of all the action is known (we never nuked the Ruskies, right?) it's important that the plot is supplemented with interesting, not contrived character stories. "K-19" isn't completely defective in this regard, but most of the time just doesn't pull it off. And subsequently, leaves you with that bitter aftertaste of wasted potential.

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